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ANIME REVIEW: “Ranma 1/2: TV Series Set 3”

ANIME REVIEW: "Ranma 1/2: TV Series Set 3"

Ranma 1/2: TV Series Set 3 Viz: $54.97, Blu-ray; $44.82, DVD:
3 discs

Rumiko Takahashi’s martial arts romantic
farce Ranma 1/2 proves that even
limited animation can physically transform characters more effectively than
live action, despite the increasing sophistication of make-up and  prostheses. Because he fell into a cursed
spring while training in Jusenkyo, China, wiry, black-haired high school
martial arts champion Ranma Saotome turns into a buxom, red-haired girl when
he’s hit with cold water. (Hot water restores his proper gender.)

The drawn Ranma can shift genders more easily and
convincingly than any live actor. The facial features can be slightly altered
from his to hers and vice versa, the hair color changed, the body expanded and
contracted in the appropriate places. The drawings move with a blithe ease that
can’t be matched by an actor struggling to perform in prosthetics, wig, fat
suit and/or heavy make-up.

Ranma and his father Genma (who turns into a giant panda because
of a fall into another spring in Jusenkyo) have become freeloaders in the
dojo-home of Suon Tendo. To ensure the succession of the Anything Goes School
of Martial Arts, the fathers have decided that Ranma and Suon’s hot-tempered
daughter Akane are engaged. Akane yells that Ranma’s a jerk; Ranma grumbles that
Akane’s “un-cute.”

When Ranma enrolls at the nearby high school, the
complications multiply exponentially. Kuno, the school Kendo champion and
gasbag—he styles himself “The Rolling Blue Thunder of Furinken High”–falls for
both Akane and girl-type Ranma. After
years of misguided wandering, geographically challenged Ryoga arrives at
Furinken High, eager to re-open a quarrel with Ranma that dates back to junior
high school, but he falls for Akane like a box of rocks. As additional
characters arrive, develop one-sided crushes (and, often, reveal that they also
fell into the treacherous waters of Jusenkyo), the romantic polygons grow increasingly
complex.

The third broadcast season of Ranma ranks as one of the high points in the long-running series
and “Am I Pretty” may well be its funniest episode. When he insults
her cooking yet again, Akane knocks Ranma into the garden pond, where he clonks
his head on a large rock. The blow somehow brings out his latent feminine side.
The loutish Ranma suddenly becomes obsessed with lacy frills, refined cooking
and maidenly modest—to the point where he squeals at the sight of his own
jockey shorts. It’s a wonderfully incongruous piece of character comedy.

The arrival of champion okonomiyaki
chef Ukyo brings Ranma the last thing he wants or needs: another wanna-be
fiancée. But Ukyo already has a would-be suitor, Tsubasa, who brings the cross-dressing
confusion to new heights of absurdity. Ryoga and Shampoo, the Chinese Amazon,
find a miraculous soap that seems to neutralize the transforming spells of
Jusenkyo. The entire cast vies to win a trip to China
in the Miracle Martial Arts Obstacle Race. And Ranma attempts to change
the past and keep himself from falling into that accursed spring.

The entire Ranma series provides a nutty reminder of the slapstick fun only animation can
provide, and the filmmakers are careful to introduce just enough grudging affection
between Ranma and Akane to keep the series from feeling mean or rancorous.
Between guffaws, American viewers may wonder why so few domestic cartoons are
this unbashedly funny. 

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